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OPINION

Pie-cation in Yorkshire — tales from a pastry-fuelled weekend bikepacking adventure

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Sometimes, it's more fun to focus more on planning what pies to eat than meticulously organising your route

"We'll make it back to Whitby before dark, right?" My friend's words echoed a hint of desperation as we pedalled up yet another climb through the brown North Yorkshire moorland that was still months away from breaking into its purple bloom. It was mid-afternoon, and the day had been filled with so many climbs that I had lost track of the number and decided to stop peering at my Hammerhead's screen so much. But wondering if we actually would make it before dark, I had another peek at the route. Whitby, our destination, was a mere 20km and a few more climbs away and well within our reach before sunset – even if in early April it was still rather depressingly early. 

This marked the second day of our slightly impromptu bikepacking adventure through North Yorkshire – a trip discussed months earlier but planned mere days before departure, with the feeling that surely I must've forgotten something important.

In the past, I'd have meticulously scouted the route on every possible platform, but lately, I admit that my eagerness to make plans has been on a steady decline in various aspects of my life, not just in terms of bikepacking adventures. As such, a weekend getaway mostly planned by someone else felt like a welcome reprieve. In our case, that someone was Markus Stitz, the founder of bikepackingscotland.com and the expert cyclist and planner behind so many routes around the UK. 

Setting off

As we rolled out of Whitby on Friday afternoon, I found myself feeling at ease rather than having a pang of stress when I realised I had spent more time perusing the evening's pie menu than meticulously recceing (via any available online tool) the day's route.

We were about to tackle what is dubbed the Yorkshire Weekender by Route YC—a local destination group—and Markus, one of his newest routes spans from the coastal charm of Whitby to Hunmanby (or Scarborough, depending on where you want to spend the night). Once you've reached the southernmost point, the route then loops back along the rugged Yorkshire Moors, covering approximately 150 km with 1,900 m of elevation gain in total.

If I had randomly chosen a route to follow online, I perhaps would have done a little more research, but having completed quite a few of Markus' routes before, I knew that someone like him, a master bikepacker and route creator, knew a thing or two about crafting accessible yet captivating bikepacking routes. 

Yorkshire bikepacking

It's not a route tailored for total beginners, but not so demanding that you'd want to throw in the towel halfway through the day (as long as you prepare for some steep and slow climbing!) either. It's also one that offers quiet remoteness, as much of the route meanders smoothly on and off-road through the scenic North York Moors National Park, tracing the historic Roman roads, while the coastal section takes on a lot of the Cinder Track – an old railway line that was likely scrapped because it was too hilly for trains.

And speaking of trains – despite rail connections to Whitby, we had opted to drive to our starting point from Glasgow, and though driving four hours is not exactly a pleasant way to travel, it is sadly more reliable and economical than the train options were. This had an impact on our itinerary too, as we then decided to tackle the route in reverse, making our first day of riding shorter and flatter, focusing on the Cinder Track, and reserving the punchy and draggy Moors for the second day. That said, because the route is circular, you could really choose to ride it in whichever direction you want, or tailor the start and finish location to suit your plans and available transport options. 

Day one

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Once we'd parked near Whitby Abbey, a spectacular ruin that overlooks the town from atop a hill, we had a quick faff with putting our bikepacking packs onto our bikes, and finally, it was time to stretch the legs.

The reverse-route decision turned out to be the right one as we trundled along the washed-out old railway track, avoiding big puddles. When the landscape opened up to the fields that were yet to have much green on them, we were pushed along by the tailwind.

For much of the afternoon, we stayed on the off-road path which connects Whitby with Scarborough and traces the coast, rewarding us with views of the North Sea and beautiful beaches surrounded by cliffs, including Robin Hood's Bay. According to some tales, it used to be the historic outlaw's residency at some point hundreds of years ago. Signs of his presence in this bay are likely hard to find, but instead, you can find a lot of fossils on the beach. 

It might have been the timing of our trip, still early in the outdoor adventure season, but for much of the route, we got to enjoy only each other's company and came across just a few fellow cyclists and walkers – until we hit the buzz of Scarborough. The coastal town, with its amusement centres and bright colours lined along the beach promenade, was a stark contrast to the calmness of the trails and felt almost overwhelming.

Perhaps eager to get back to that quietness, we pushed past the coast road's bustle and up the hill on our bikes so quickly that I missed having a look at the Cliff Lift – a cliff railway known for being the first of its kind in the UK – which is right along the route and well worth a peek if you have a moment. Oblivious of the lift we'd missed (you can't take bikes on it anyway) we instead weaved up from the promenade and through the suburbs onto Oliver's Mount, a hill that in 2016 was the final classified climb summit for stage three of the Tour de Yorkshire. Mind you, on a fully loaded bike the climb might feel an unnecessary pain, and you're very unlikely to bag the KOM/QOM on it, but it does grant a great view over the town. 

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The efforts we'd put in to get up Oliver's Mount were also quickly forgotten as we realised it marked the halfway point on our first day's 70 km route, and the remaining 30 km were quite a breeze. Aware of the early sunset, we pedalled through farm fields, on some smaller roads and finally over the railway line to the white stone building of the Piebald Inn, our night's accommodation. With its pub's warm lights filtering through the windows in the dwindling evening light, made me feel like someone from centuries past, arriving at the inn after a long day on the roads.

We got to store our bikes at the hotel's storage shed, and true to the bikepackers' ethos, we were eager to get to a hearty dinner and restful sleep over exploring the pub's drinks menu further, or even visiting the nearby distillery, which is Yorkshire's first whisky distillery, opened in 2017. The Piebald Inn’s menu, boasting 52 pies named after horse breeds, provided us very filling dinner. Paired with a bottle of wine from the Pie-cation deal (which also lends its name to the weekend) the meal ensured us a good early night's sleep.

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Day two

Overnight, our hotel room effectively took a plummet to fridge-like temperatures as before bed, we'd had a little play with the air conditioning, and as so often with technology, were then unable to stop it from blasting freezing air into the room. That cold start only hastened us more to get to the breakfast we'd been told about, and after an egg-heavy meal, we were ready to wheel our bikes out into the blazing, warm spring sun. 

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Our second day of riding was longer and hillier, with 85 km of distance and more than 1,100 m of elevation to tackle. It all started with quite a gentle warm-up on paved roads, and by the time we hit the day's first (and certainly most demanding) climb after East Ayton, the temperatures were nicely climbing up, but not quite matching the 20-degree ascents we were about to zigzag up. 

Though much of the Weekender route's off-road sections are tame, there were times when I was massively overbiked; okay I admit my Surly Bridge Club's 2.4-inch tyres were excessive for about 95% of the route, but at times the chunkiness and the dinner-plate-sized 11-50T cassette paired with a 32T front were all the fun on both descents and climbs alike. I'd say that the route is best suited for a sensible gravel bike, though – my friend was on her Lauf Seigla which seemed like the perfect option; not too heavy even when carrying luggage or on the paved roads, but yet robust and cushy enough for those rougher trail sections. 

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After that long and steep East Ayton climb that certainly woke our legs up, we were on beautiful gravel tracks, following the Moor to Sea Cycle route signs. The route kept diving in and out of cute villages, like Lockton, where we stopped at the Tea Rooms and Gallery for an excellent lunch and coffee. There was also plenty of industrial and rural history to dive into if that's your interest – and the contrast between the scenic coastal towns and inland suburbs we weaved through was interesting to witness.

Because of our leisurely pace, it was easy to take in the surroundings; the roads and off-road tracks were quiet enough to not demand constant focus, and the slower climbs certainly allowed for plenty of time to cherish the roadside forests. 

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Yorkshire's character

If our weekend adventure taught us something, it is that Yorkshire is not flat in character or topography. Some of the climbs were steady and long, but mostly you are greeted with a steep ascent before the adrenaline from the fast descent had even started to fill your body. Similarly, you pass through beautifully serene coastal towns but also abandoned train stations and suburban areas that for me were reminiscent of the emptying, grey towns on the rural eastern and western coasts of Scotland. There was more than one contrast to see, and on a bike, you move slowly enough to take it all in. 

Our two days of riding allowed us a leisurely pace, but Markus designed the route to be as adventurous as you want it to be, and its appeal to all levels of cyclists shone through during our two days of riding. Rolling back to Whitby and our hostel next to the majestic Whitby Abbey ruins after a day riding through moors, woods, and lanes, I was sure I'd like to return to see more and perhaps spend a day in Scarborough exploring the area's largest town's offerings. For those with more than a couple of days to spare, there's the longer 5-day, 258-mile Adventure Route to tackle as well.

Though longer adventures enable you to see more, sometimes shorter trips allow you to absorb more of what you see. Despite the mid-afternoon desperations, we arrived in Whitby on Saturday afternoon with spare time to walk around its cobbled narrow streets, and later lie in our own bunk beds to learn about the town's history in whaling and the gemstone Whitby jet, seen in many shop windows.

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The end

We had deliberately left Sunday open for spontaneous exploration, and having the final day open-ended can definitely help with the dreaded back-to-reality blues that often plague the last day of any bikepacking trip. Markus had outlined some route options, but as the coastal weather promised the ever-familiar dreich, I opted for a shorter solo ride along the coast leaving my friend to explore more of Whitby on foot.

I ventured to the quaint beach at Runswick Bay, climbed up what was perhaps the steepest hill I've ridden outside Tenerife, and traversed the misty lanes back to Whitby, drenched by the quintessential British drizzle. It was then time to get changed, have a little walk around Whitby Abbey (the hostel stay included free entry) and head back up the road. We'd had a great time, not forgotten anything, and got plenty of memories to cherish from the well-paced weekend that didn't feel like it sucked all energy out of me because I didn't have to spend so long planning everything by myself.  

You can find the Yorkshire Weekender and the longer Adventure routes on Route YC's Komoot page and embark on them whenever you have a spare weekend or a bit longer. Alternatively, much of the route is also the backbone for the Yorkshire Dirt Dash gravel event, allowing you to experience the route with others.

A heartfelt thank you to Markus and Route YC for assisting with the last-minute arrangements.

Suvi joined F-At in 2022, first writing for off-road.cc. She's since joined the tech hub, and contributes to all of the sites covering tech news, features, reviews and women's cycling content. Lover of long-distance cycling, Suvi is easily convinced to join any rides and events that cover over 100km, and ideally, plenty of cake and coffee stops. 

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7 comments

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Brauchsel | 1 week ago
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I know trains are expensive, but are they *really* less economical than buying/maintaining/insuring/fuelling a car? 

I just had a quick look on Trainline, and Glasgow to Whitby in a couple of weeks' time can be done for £65 return. Takes a bit more than four hours each way, and doubtless it's less convenient than getting in the car (if you have one), but if we're serious about reducing car-dependence these are the sacrifices to make. As a bikepacking trip, it's by definition a journey on which you don't have more luggage than you can reasonably transport without a car. 

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Suvi Loponen replied to Brauchsel | 1 week ago
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A very valid point and I fully agree with you that driving to do bikepacking trips should never become the default, and for sure owning a car is less economical than taking a train in the long run. I could have perhaps said more about this in the piece above too, but I feel that with the current pricing and unreliability/rigid bike rules of the British trains, it's not very easy to travel with a bike anywhere - even if the cost isn't an issue, unless you are very flexible with your time and plan well ahead.

This is something I really hope will change, because I for sure have spent way too many hours in the last couple of years alone standing at random train stations because of cancelled trains, getting told by the staff that there is no "rail replacement service" for me because they won't accept my bike. And that's ruined plans and my mood many a time. 

In the case of this weekend trip, the journey from Glasgow to Whitby would've taken 5.5 hours at the bare minimum, each way, and at least when I checked it's hard to get a return for Fri-Sun for less than £80 per person. But in addition to the cost, you have planned (and unplanned) rail strikes, cancellations, delays, missing connections and the rest to worry about, too. And I do worry about those, as it seems bad luck seems to follow me on pretty much every train journey I take. 

Despite all that, we seriously did consider the train til the last minute (though travelling to York as that's easier to get to), but then had the hurdle of booking spaces for our bikes and finding accommodation that'd suited that plan. Somehow, it is not often possible to get one bike onto a train, unless you book well in advance - to book two onto the same train(s) becomes even more difficult. 

The good thing about this specific route is, at least, that you do have the flexibility to start it in other locations than Whitby, and for sure if (and when) I return, I will dedicate more time to book things in advance and take the train - or in an ideal world with unlimited annual leave, cycle the whole way there, too. And that's what I would recommend others do, too. 

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Simon E replied to Brauchsel | 1 week ago
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Brauchsel wrote:

I know trains are expensive, but are they *really* less economical than buying/maintaining/insuring/fuelling a car?

I don't know the answer to that but I'll like to add my perspective.

I own a car and am not in a position to exist without one so I'm paying MOT, VED & insurance regardless (annual mileage ~4,500 to date). I travel to North Wales frequently and have often used the train. However, in the last couple of years it has become less practical due to things like cancellations, rail replacement, strikes etc, although the strikes haven't always affected TfW.

A return ticket is now £60. If I choose the exact train a week or more in advance I might get it as low as £43. It's well over 2 hours plus 20mins or more at each end, total time is about 3 hours. I sit (or stand) next to people talking to each other or on their mobile phones, eating or with their possessions and/or themselves invading my personal space. I try to be tolerant but occasionally it's not very nice. I bet it's far worse for women, especially if travelling alone. Getting the bike on and off (and up & down the flight of stairs in Shrewsbury station) is fine, if awkward, but if I was loaded with panniers etc, used an e-bike or trailer it could be more of a struggle (though I believe there is a lift).

If I travel by car the fuel is ~£22, door-to-door time is under 2 hours. If I want to adjust my departure time or change my plans for any reason then it's effortless. My bike comes too.

It's not that train travel is always awful. Some journeys are very nice and I love being whisked along and not having to concentrate the whole time, looking out of the window as we speed along the North Wales coast in the evening sunlight.

I genuinely try to minimise my car use (I've chosen to commute by bike most days for the last 18 years). But there are only so many compromises and sacrifices I'm prepared to make to 'do my bit' for the environment when it seems that most people around me are doing the exact opposite.

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wtjs | 1 week ago
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our hotel room effectively took a plummet to fridge-like temperatures

From a Finn, that initially sounds pretty bad. However, I think they're accustomed to the insides of dwellings being reasonably warm. 

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Suvi Loponen replied to wtjs | 1 week ago
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Haha, we are! Perhaps also tells how used to operating air conditioning I am  3 

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brooksby | 1 week ago
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Quote:

The Piebald Inn’s menu, boasting 52 pies named after horse breeds, provided us very filling dinner

So not pies made out of 52 horse breeds? Disappointing 

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the little onion replied to brooksby | 1 week ago
3 likes

brooksby wrote:

Quote:

The Piebald Inn’s menu, boasting 52 pies named after horse breeds, provided us very filling dinner

So not pies made out of 52 horse breeds? Disappointing 

 

Ignore the neigh-sayers.

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